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Authorities act on suicide bombings of U.S., French bases

March 26, 1997

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Authorities have ordered two Shiite Muslim extremists investigated for possible links to the 1983 suicide bombings of U.S. and French military bases in Beirut which killed 299 soldiers.

It was the first legal action in the case and appeared aimed at assuaging U.S. anger that no suspects have been identified or arrests made in the 14 years since the attack.

Riad Talih, a military magistrate, said Tuesday he had ordered police to investigate Hassan Ezzedine and Ali Atwi, believed to have been senior security officials of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in the 1980s.

Both men are at large. Talih’s order did not connect them to Hezbollah, apparently to avoid a confrontation with the group. Hezbollah is leading a guerrilla war to end Israeli occupation of a border enclave in southern Lebanon.

The two suicide-bombings occurred almost simultaneously on Oct. 23, 1983, when trucks packed with explosives were rammed into the French military headquarters and a U.S. Marine barracks at Beirut airport, killing 241 U.S. servicemen and 58 French paratroopers.

A pro-Iranian Shiite group, Islamic Jihad, claimed responsibility for the attacks, which marked the beginning of the end of Western attempts to stop Lebanon’s civil war. Several months later, the peacekeeping force of U.S., French, British and Italian troops left Lebanon.

Islamic Jihad is believed to be linked to Hezbollah, although Hezbollah officials have denied that.

Islamic Jihad also claimed responsibility for the 1983 suicide bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, and the suicide bombing a year later of the replacement U.S. Embassy in the hilltop suburb Aukar. Nearly 80 people were killed in those attacks.

One of the men being investigated, Ezzedine, was named in a 1985 arrest warrant for the hijacking of a TWA airliner to Beirut, in which a U.S. Navy diver was killed.

The lack of legal proceedings over the years has been a sore point in Lebanon’s relation with the United States, which still forbids its citizens to travel to Lebanon. The ban was imposed in 1987 after a series of hostage-takings of American citizens.

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